What are the differences between LED chips (SMDs)? Which type should I choose?
LED strip lighting can be manufactured using a variety of different LED chip types.
Below, we’re going to explain the main differences between them – by comparing the most commonly used chip types on the LED tape market: the 3528 and the 5050.
What does the number of an LED chip mean?
LED chips (also known as surface mounted diodes or SMDs) are all identified by a four-digit number. This code is less complicated than it looks – it simply indicates the size of the LED chip. For example, the dimensions of SMDs on 5050 LED strip lights are 5.0mm x 5.0mm.
Which is the best LED chip?
LEDs like 3528s, 5050s, 2835s and 5630s aren’t really different types of chip at all – they’re simply different sizes. Each has its own spec: different power requirements and output brightness. The best choice depends on what’s right for your project.
You can find out more about each LED chip below.
The 3528 LED chip explained
Measuring 3.5mm x 2.8mm, the 3528 SMD is a smaller chip than the 5050 LED strip SMD. You will most often find 3528 chips on 12-volt LED strips, drawing 4.8 watts (also known as 4.8w p/m or 5w p/m LED tape) with 60 SMDs per metre.
These strip lights output around 330-360 lumens per metre, depending on colour (equivalent to a 40w halogen) – enough to produce a smooth, bright effect when shining onto any surface.
3528 60 SMD p/m LED strip lights are typically used for feature lighting – such as plinth or coving lights, in homes, bars, restaurants, hotels and other locations.
Though less common than standard 60 SMDs p/m LED tape, 3528 SMDs are also used on LED strip lights with 120 chips per metre. Pulling 9.6 watts (known as 9.6w p/m or 10w p/m LED tape), these tapes are available in the same range of colours. Light output is exactly double that of 60 SMDs p/m tape – they have twice as many LEDs – so that’s around 660-720 lumens per metre, depending on colour.
3528 120 SMD p/m LED strips are used for the same kind of feature-lighting applications as its standard alternative. We recommend them for locations with strong ambient light, where more brightness is needed than the 4.8w p/m can produce.
The cut points for our 60 SMD-per-metre 3528 LED strips are 50mm apart. The 120 SMD p/m strips have cut points at 25mm intervals. Both types are also available in waterproofed versions (IP67-rated).
Safe to touch
3528 SMDs do not give off a lot of heat – you can safely touch them. Even so, the 60 LED p/m tape requires PCBs (printed circuit boards) at least 8mm wide, and the 120 LED p/m tape should use 2-ounce thickness PCBs. As long as your LED strips meet these minimum specifications, they can be simply installed anywhere because they have a sufficient heat sink not to require an additional aluminium extrusion.
There are many manufacturers of 3528 SMDs. Epistar-branded SMDs are extremely high quality and give you the brightest 3528 SMDs on the market. They offer excellent colour consistency and reliability, with a life of 50,000 hours at 70% output. Cheaper alternatives are less bright and less reliable, and are prone to colour inconsistencies within the reel and between reels.
Double-power 3528 SMD explained
Double-power 3528 SMDs are the same size as standard-power LEDs. They are available in the same colours, drawing twice the power to give twice the output. LED strip lights manufactured using double-power SMDs have 120 LEDs per metre and pull 19.2 watts per metre (also known as 19.2w p/m, or 20w p/m).
Double-power 3528 LED strips use a 2-ounce 10mm wide PCB to disperse heat effectively, in order not to require an extra heat sink when installed. These LED strips are only available for 24-volt systems, as this carries current better. Lumen output is around 1320-1440 lumens per metre (depending on the colour). Because of its high brightness, we recommend this LED tape as general lighting, or to replace fluorescent tubes and halogens.
The 5050 LED chip explained
Measuring 50mm x 50mm, the 5050 SMD is larger than the 3528 SMD. These dimensions mean that each 5050 SMD is big enough to house four separate LED chips (sometimes called ‘quad LEDs’).
5050 LED chips are often used on 60 LED-per-metre strip lights, pulling 14.4 watts at 24 volts (commonly called 14.4w p/m or 15w p/m LED tape). With an output of around 990-1080 lumens per metre, depending on colour, this tape gives you a smooth, bright effect when shining onto a surface.
Available colours are:
warm and cool whites (other Kelvins requirements can be manufactured on request)
red, green, blue, and amber single-colour
and also colour-changing – either RGB or RGBW (red, green, blue, white), using ‘tri’ / ‘quad’ chips (three or four LED chips in one).
These 60 SMD p/m 5050 LED strip lights are typically used for general lighting applications, such as corridor lighting, replacing fluorescent tube lighting, in homes, bars, restaurants, hotels and other locations.
5050 SMDs used in RGB LED strip lighting
The 5050 SMD is actually a ‘tri’ chip, meaning it has three smaller chips in every SMD. So each white LED actually has three white chips inside.
5050s can also be used for colour-changing LED tape, with red, green and blue chips inside each LED. By linking this type of RGB LED strip light to a controller, you can mix any shade of any colour you choose. (RGBW tape is similar, but uses ‘quad’ LEDs, with an additional white chip.)
RGB 5050 LED strip lights are available in two types:
30 LEDs per metre (known as 7.2w p/m or 7.5w p/m LED tape) outputs up to 500 lumens per metre and is ideal for feature lighting such as covings, plinths in homes, hotels, restaurants and bars.
60 LEDs per metre (aka 14.4w p/m or 15w p/m LED tape) produces up to 1000 lumens per metre, perfect for full wall-washes such as bar frontage, back bars in restaurants, clubs, or the home.
We can supply both types of 5050 LED tape (30 and 60 LED p/m options) in waterproofed versions (IP67-rated). The cut-points on both are spaced at 100mm intervals.
Branded Epistar SMDs are the highest quality 5050 LEDs on the market. They provide the best brightness, colour consistency and reliability with 70% output at 50,000 hours. Using cheaper alternatives instead, you’ll get dimmer and more unreliable LEDs that output inconsistent colours within each reel and also from reel to reel.
Summary of LED chip types
In the end, the type of SMD chip doesn’t matter – as long as it can meet your requirements. InStyle recommend branded Epistar LEDs for the reasons we discussed above (brightness, reliability and colour batching).
When purchasing LED strip lights, you should ask yourselves these questions:
Do you want feature lighting, task lighting, colour changing, waterproof, etc?
Dimmable or non-dimmable?
What colour do you want?
How bright do you need the LED strips?